How to Negotiate a Car Deal Online

If you plan on purchasing a car soon (especially during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic) it’s important to arm yourself. No, not with guns, but with knowledge and patience. Thanks to “social distancing,” most, if not all, traditional dealerships are currently reverting to online sales and may be selling cars by appointment only. Here’s how you can use that to your advantage and get the best car deal via e-mail.

Do your research

You’ve read it before and you’re going to read it here again: Do your research!

Whether you’re shopping for a new or pre-owned car, the market does change constantly so understanding pricing is important.

We recommend watching car reviews of the car that you’re interested in on YouTube and look at websites like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, and TrueCar to get the “invoice price,” if you’re buying a new car.

The invoice price is the price that the dealer pays for the car, but they can possibly go lower than the invoice if there are manufacturer incentives or rebates available for the car.

A person doing car buying research on their laptop.
Car research | Joseph Branston/Future via Getty Images

Test Drive

For part of the research process, you will have to do some actual legwork. Get out to your local dealership and drive the car that you’re interested in. If it’s a new car, be sure to ask all the questions you have and make sure you know what you want (specs, options, color, pricing, etc.) by the time you leave.

When you do leave, don’t just ghost the poor salesperson or be rude, after all, they’re trying to sell you a car. Just tell them that you’re researching and ask them to give you their pricing on the car.

Just to note, they may hit you with a really enticing price to get you to buy right then, but kindly decline and let them know that you’ll be in touch.

Shop your price

Now that you’ve picked the car that you want, have an actual price in hand for reference, and know the actual invoice price and possible incentives for the car, it’s time to start e-mailing other dealers.

We suggest looking up other local dealers within a 25-mile radius and getting e-mail addresses of the Internet Sales Managers on their websites. One good trick is to contact the Sales Manager and speak directly with them. After all, they hold the keys to the pricing, not just the office.

Send out an e-mail to each dealer (4-5 dealers, tops) and let them know what car you’re interested in (including specs, options, color, etc.), that you’re already done a test drive, and that you have another dealer’s price on hand. Wait about 24 hours for them to respond, keeping in mind that not all of them will.

Buying a Pickup Truck
Buying a Pickup Truck | Getty

Time to negotiate

For those that respond, they’ll let you know if they have the car you want, or if they can get it, then they’ll probably ask you to come in and finalize the deal.

Just let them know that you would like to settle on the price via e-mail beforehand and tell them the lowest pricing you received for the car and ask if they can beat it.

Some might disagree with that last move, but it’s important to have clear communication when it comes to getting what you want, so it’s a good time to use your words.

After letting them know your lowest price, the dealers will hit you back with what they can do for you and ask you to set an appointment. Just let them know that you’ll think about it and put them “on ice” for a day or so.

Soon enough, they’ll follow up and ask if you’re still interested. Then you can ask if it’s the best that they can do. If it is, then so be it. But if it is not, then they might go a little lower ($100-$200) to earn your business.

Just never expect thousands of dollars more because they’re usually at the bottom of the barrel at that point.

Buying New Vehicle
(Photo by Jim R. Bounds/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Finalize the deal

When you finally get to that bottom number, make an appointment and have them email all the final figures so that you have it all in writing.

Go to the dealer and make sure they have the exact car you want, and then do the paperwork based on the numbers you agreed to via e-mail. Remember to print out the complete correspondence so that you don’t have to negotiate all over again. Then enjoy your car!

Just remember

Remember to be polite in your correspondence. Just like in person, a pleasant demeanor can go a long way via e-mail. After all, you wouldn’t want someone to be rude to you, right?